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As I prepare to moderate Fortune’s virtual Brainstorm Finance conversation on “banking while black” later today, I’ve been turning my sights to tangible strategies the finance industry can take to address the systemic inequality that remains prevalent in just about every aspect of our monetary lives.
The wealth gap between black and white America is stark: An average white family’s net worth ($171,000) is about ten times that of an average black family ($17,150), based on the latest Federal Reserve data.
But even though that chasm may be vast, it’s not insurmountable, according to Kevin Cohee, the CEO of OneUnited Bank, the largest black-owned bank in the U.S. “That difference is largely rooted in one thing, homeownership and where you own the home,” Cohee, who will speak at our virtual event later, tells me.
And Cohee, whose OneUnited Bank has been wooing more black customers in part through a hashtag campaign to “#BankBlack,” aims to tackle that problem.
“It’s literally one transaction— it’s one, well executed real estate purchase,” Cohee says. “If you just got the home purchase right, you could solve the economic disparity gap in the United States. It’s the root of so many of the problems that we have.”
While historically, black Americans have been denied loans and mortgages through racist practices such as redlining, Cohee believes the “most important thing” banks can provide today is not just money. “It’s not about access to capital—we have access to capital,” he says. “It’s about access to knowledge.”
Many fintech companies today talk about their commitment to financial inclusion—that is to say, providing banking services, often with the help of digital technology, to previously underserved or “underbanked” communities, including the black community. But Cohee’s points underscore a need for more than just supposedly colorblind banking apps and Internet-based financial services. Even with new technology, black executives stress the need for human interaction and community outreach to bring more black Americans into the world of mainstream banking, accelerating their moneymaking potential to finally close that wealth gap.
“What we’re doing is we’re trying to teach black Americans how to get that one transaction done, so that you can change it, Cohee says.
If you’ve been to our Brainstorm Finance events before, you should have received an invitation already (if not, you may need to adjust your spam settings), and we hope you’ll join us at 12pm ET today. If you’re an executive who’d like to attend, you can request one by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.